Scene on the river bank at Theyetmyo, the frontier station, on the Irrawaddy, of Lower Burmah
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of a scene on the river bank at Thayetmyo in Burma (Myanmar), taken by Willoughby Wallace Hooper in 1885. The photograph is one of a series documenting the Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885-86) made by Hooper while serving as Provost Marshal with the British army. He had sailed from Madras in India with Royal Artillery troops on 3 November 1885. From Rangoon, the capital of British Burma, the British forces travelled up the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay, the Burmese royal capital, in steamers requisitioned from the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company. Thayetmyo was the British post on the river nearest to the frontier with Upper Burma. The print is accompanied by a caption written by Hooper, which reads: “This station is on the right bank of the river, a short distance above Prome, which latter place is connected by rail with Rangoon, being a night’s run from that place. The Expedition left this station on 15th Nov., 1885, on its way up the river to the attack of Mandalay. The great river steamer is seen between the two flats which it has carried up, on either side of it; from one of which communication is being held with the shore by means of planks.” In addition to his military responsibilities, Hooper was a dedicated amateur photographer who had worked in collaboration with an army veterinary surgeon, George Western, in India, where his subjects had included ethnographical studies, the life of the British, and the Madras famines of 1876-78. The Burma war series of photographs is considered “one of the most accomplished and comprehensive records of a nineteenth century military campaign”. They were published in 1887 as ‘Burmah: a series of one hundred photographs illustrating incidents connected with the British Expeditionary Force to that country, from the embarkation at Madras, 1st Nov, 1885, to the capture of King Theebaw, with many views of Mandalay and surrounding country, native life and industries’. There were two editions, one with albumen prints, one with autotypes, and a series of lantern slides was also issued. A political scandal arose following allegations by a journalist that Hooper had acted sadistically in the process of photographing the execution by firing squad of Burmese rebels. The subsequent court of inquiry concluded that he had behaved in a “callous and indecorous” way and the affair raised issues of the role of the photograph in documenting human suffering and the conduct of the British military during a colonial war. The war culminated in the annexation of Upper Burma on 1 January 1886 by the British and the exile of King Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885), the last of the Burmese kings, and his queen Supayalat, to India.